Dairy products suddenly taste bad

Dear Alice,

I have a weird problem that happened to me once when I was maybe 8 years old (I'm 20 now). I woke up one morning and all dairy products tasted horrible. They tasted as though they had gone bad. I'm not sure how long it lasted back then because I just stopped eating all dairy products for a couple of years — I was afraid they would taste bad, but it definitely lasted several months. When I started to have them again they tasted fine. It seems to have started again. What could possibly be the cause of this?

Dear Reader, 

Though an udder-ly perplexing experience, you’re not alone. Taste, as you may know, is influenced by flavors on your tongue and the odors that you smell. In fact, your sense of smell plays a big part in how you perceive the taste of something. Even a small change in your ability to smell may make your favorite food taste bland or gross. So, what's causing your change in taste? One possible explanation for this is dysgeusia—the scientific term for sudden changes in your perception of the taste of foods to all be sour, sweet, bitter, or metallic. Changes in taste are often a symptom of another underlying cause, and as such, dysgeusia can be traced to a number of potential sources, such as: 

  • Side effects from a wide range of medications such as antibiotics, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, diuretics and chemotherapy drugs 
  • An illness or injury that affects the head, nose, or throat 
  • Dry mouth 
  • Smoking 
  • Periodontal disease, tartar build-up, and gingivitis 
  • Damage to the taste nerves, such as burning your mouth with hot food or liquid 
  • Vitamin or mineral deficiencies 
  • Neurological or metabolic disorders 
  • Acid reflux or Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) 
  • Aging 
  • Pregnancy 
  • COVID-19 

Changes in taste are usually temporary and typically disappear once the cause of the problem is eliminated. You may want to try investigating the source of the problem on your own by thinking about what the culprit of your dysgeusia could be. It might be as simple as waiting for a stuffy nose to clear up or brushing your tongue or teeth more frequently. You may also want to try rinsing your mouth out with water before eating dairy products or try eating them at different times of the day to see if timing affects the taste. 

If pinpointing the cause on your own remains a mystery, a health care provider may be able to help you figure out exactly what's going on. If you choose to see a health care provider, they may ask you questions as to whether your taste changes only happen with dairy foods, if you have experienced any illnesses recently, or if you've changed any of your personal habits like your eating and oral hygiene routine.  

Aside from dysgeusia, other conditions that may affect smell and taste include hypogeusia (a reduced ability to taste), ageusia (a complete inability to detect any taste), anosmia (a loss of sense of smell), and hyposmia (a reduced ability to smell). Though usually temporary, losing one’s sense of smell and taste can also be a sign of a more serious condition, such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, malnutrition, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or Alzheimer’s disease. 

Once you find the cause, hopefully you'll be back on your way to consuming delectable dairy products without any worries. 

Hope this helps! 

Last updated Mar 31, 2023
Originally published Feb 24, 2006